Australian family ‘overjoyed’ at Taliban hostage release

Timothy Weeks and Kevin King – both professors at the American University in Kabul – were kidnapped by gunmen as they returned home from classes in August 2016. — AFP file pic
Timothy Weeks and Kevin King – both professors at the American University in Kabul – were kidnapped by gunmen as they returned home from classes in August 2016. — AFP file pic

SYDNEY, Dec 1 —The family of Australian academic Timothy Weeks said they were ‘overjoyed’ at his release by the Taliban in an Afghanistan prisoner swap that came three years after he was abducted.

The Taliban handed over Weeks and American Kevin King to US forces in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday in exchange for three high-ranking insurgent prisoners.

King and Weeks, both professors at the American University in Kabul, were kidnapped by gunmen wearing military uniforms in the heart of the Afghan capital in August 2016.

Weeks’ family said in a statement late Tuesday night they were “overjoyed that Tim has been released after more than three years in captivity”.

The family thanked the Australian, United States and Afghanistan governments for their efforts in securing his freedom.

“We thank our friends and extended family for their love and support over the past three years during this very difficult time,” the statement said.

“It is important that Tim now be given the time and space to start to come to terms with his experience.”

During their captivity, the Western hostages appeared looking haggard in a Taliban video, with the insurgents going on to say that King was in poor health.

National broadcaster ABC reported the men would be flown from Afghanistan to Germany for medical checks.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Weeks was in good condition “in the circumstances” and was undergoing medical assessments after “three years of absolute hell”.

“This has been a great piece of work done in the interests of both of these two gentlemen and we couldn’t be more pleased to get them out safe and get them home to their families,” he told Sky News Australia.

Weeks was expected to be reunited with his family soon, but it was unclear when he would return to Australia.

The exchange for the militant prisoners — including Anas Haqqani, brother to the Taliban’s deputy leader — was welcomed by both the US and the insurgents.

The swap could herald a breakthrough in stalled efforts to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table with the Kabul government and begin work toward a political settlement ending their 18-year insurgency.

Since September 2018 Washington and the Taliban had been holding direct talks, seeking an agreement for US troops to begin leaving Afghanistan and the militants start negotiations with Kabul.

They were on the verge of a deal when US President Donald Trump scuttled the talks in September, citing Taliban violence.

Most observers agree that a political pact is the only way towards lasting peace in Afghanistan. — AFP

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